Cover image for Marking time : the epic quest to invent the perfect calendar
Marking time : the epic quest to invent the perfect calendar
Steel, Duncan, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : J. Wiley, [2000]

Physical Description:
ix, 422 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


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CE6 .S74 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
CE6 .S74 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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If you lie awake worrying about the overnight transition from December 31, 1 b.c., to January 1, a.d. 1 (there is no year zero), then you will enjoy Duncan Steel's Marking Time.--American Scientist

""No book could serve as a better guide to the cumulative invention that defines the imaginary threshold to the new millennium.""--Booklist

A Fascinating March through History and the Evolution of the Modern-Day Calendar . . .

In this vivid, fast-moving narrative, you'll discover the surprising story of how our modern calendar came about and how it has changed dramatically through the years. Acclaimed author Duncan Steel explores each major step in creating the current calendar along with the many different systems for defining the number of days in a week, the length of a month, and the number of days in a year. From the definition of the lunar month by Meton of Athens in 432 b.c. to the roles played by Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror, and Isaac Newton to present-day proposals to reform our calendar, this entertaining read also presents ""timely"" tidbits that will take you across the full span of recorded history. Find out how and why comets have been used as clocks, why there is no year zero between 1 b.c. and a.d. 1, and why for centuries Britain and its colonies rang in the New Year on March 25th. Marking Time will leave you with a sense of awe at the haphazard nature of our calendar's development. Once you've read this eye-opening book, you'll never look at the calendar the same way again.

Author Notes

DUNCAN STEEL, PhD, is a space researcher who works on the dynamics of solar system objects. He has a special interest in the astronomical bases of the calendar. He teaches and directs a space research program at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. He has appeared on numerous TV shows and documentaries, including the Discovery Channel's Emmy-winning Three Minutes to Impact.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The numbers inscribed on the passing days and years testify not only to the regularity of planetary motions but also to the dogged ingenuity of the mathematicians, astronomers, and theologians who devised our calendar. As a research astronomer, Steel naturally commands the scientific skills necessary to explicate calendrical calculations, from the simple reckonings of the year performed by the stargazers in ancient Babylonia all the way up to the complex algorithms of modern scientists parsing out the milliseconds of variation in the solar day. But Steel also burns with the passions of a cultural historian, one who delights in untangling the intrigues in which the calendar has served as an instrument for advancing a political or ecclesiastical agenda. The story of one of these intrigues lets us in on the secret project of early British settlers of Virginia trying to establish a perfect Protestant Calendar (to supplant the papist one). No book could serve as a better guide to the cumulative invention that defines the imaginary threshold to the new millennium. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Australian astronomer Steel (Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets) appears to have packed three disparate books into this single volume: a general history of the development of the calendar system, a more advanced version larded with astronomical information for the science buff or professional, and a reassessment of why England settled the mid-Atlantic coast of North America. According to Steel, Elizabeth I's colonization activities were part of her maneuvering against Pope Gregory XIII. Well aware of the Gregorian calendar's flaws, English scientists thought that if they developed a superior calendar, it would help effect a rapprochement with European nations fence-sitting in the quarrel between London and Rome. Possession of territory on the 77th meridian, in the vicinity of what is now Washington, D.C., was crucial, because English calendar reformers considered it to be "God's longitude." Steel's account of this grand, somewhat daft scheme makes an intriguing study in its own right, yet it gets lost amid a tangle of unrelated facts. He advances other interesting theories with abundant background information to back them up: that Jesus was born in April 5 B.C.E. and that there was no room at the inn because it was Passover, not because of an empire-wide census; that the Star of Bethlehem was a comet; and that some major celestial event occurred around 3000 to 4000 B.C.E. because so many of the world's calendar systems began around that time. Steel seems to have never met an interesting fact he didn't like to repeat, and this unfortunate habit bogs down an otherwise excellent study of calendar systems. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In the year 2000, when the public joined the media celebrants rather than scholars and astronomers in welcoming what was proclaimed as a new millennium, it is good that an astronomer with sound historical scholarship has published a thorough account of how our calendar came to be. Tracing time-reckoning from the ancient eras of the Stonehenge and Egyptian stargazers, recalling the Julian calendar and the adoption of A.D. and B.C., Steel (astronomer, Spaceguard Australia) explains very eruditely the context of Pope Gregory's call for calendar reform as well as the controversies and reluctance relating to the acceptance of the new system. Steel offers numerous anecdotes and etymologies in addition to little-known facts of history, such as that Pope Gregory was already worried about whether anyone would remember to make 2000 a leap year, and that for many long years March 25 continued to usher in the new year even in English-speaking countries. Appendixes present some technical details relating to time measurement, including the leap second. A fascinating book packed with interesting information, based on considerable research, and presented with scientific authority. All levels. V. V. Raman; Rochester Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

George Washington's Birthday
The Country Parson's Formula
The Cycles of the Sky
Stonehenge and Sothis (Third Millennium B.C.)
Meton (432 B.C.), Callippus (330 B.C.), and Hipparchus (130 B.C.)
Julius Caesar (46 B.C.)
Constantine the Great (A.D. 321)
Dionysius Exiguus (A.D. 525)
The Synod of Whitby (A.D. 664)
The Venerable Bede (A.D. 725)
Lady Day
Retrospective Dating
Pope Gregory XIII (A.D. 1582)
The Perfect Christian Calendar and God's Longitude
Archbishop Ussher and the Age of the Earth (A.D. 1650)
Lord Chesterfield's Act (A.D. 1751)
Poor Richard's Almanack
President Arthur Requests (A.D. 1884)
Marching to the Same Drummer?
Calendar Reform
The Comet of Bethlehem
How Many Days in a Dinosaur Year?
Should 2100 Be a Double Leap Year?
Appendix A How Long Is a Day?
Appendix B How Long Is a Year?
Appendix C How Long Is a Second?
Appendix D How Long Is a Month?
Selected Bibliography